My 10-year-old son is going on a school trip from Doha to Switzerland for a week soon. This is the first time he’ll be away for such a long duration and he’s a bit worried about getting lost in an unfamiliar city without his parents. So, he’s asking me and my wife to get him a phone. Both of us, on the other hand, are not absolutely sure that he’s ready for it.
If only there was an app or an online tool that could help us decide this tricky question! But alas, no such luck. So we asked other parents, and to our surprise – or relief – found that we are not the only one undecided. I went online to look for answers from other parents and clicked through a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, part of the Pew Research Center, which said that 58 percent of 12-year-olds in the United States own a mobile phone. And this was reported in 2010. The percentage for the same demographics was a mere 18 in 2004. Now that is a huge jump. And I would assume that today, the age has gone down and the percentage of mobile owners in this age group has climbed up even further.
Mostly parents tend to buy their child a phone for safety reasons, to be able to communicate with them anytime.
So how did these parents decide? Child safety experts say that there is no standard starting age that could apply to all children. Each child has different needs and levels of maturity, understanding consequences of their actions online and of course the ability to be responsible for the device (not losing the phone or keeping it charged, for instance).
After much searching online and asking responsible parents, I feel that answers to the following questions can help you decide if your child is ready to have a mobile phone:
- How independent and responsible are your children?
- What is the main purpose of your child to have a mobile phone? Is it for them to stay in touch with you for safety reasons? Or is it for social communication?
- Will they be able to understand the concepts of billing, time and credit limits? Or cost implications of “call durations or data downloads,” etc.?
- The school policies about use of mobile phones? Will they be distracted in their studies because of the mobile phone?
- Will they be responsible in sharing personal information, texting, sharing photo, and videos, etc.?
- Are they aware of use of mobile phones or social media for bullying or embarrass or harass each other?
You can’t simply hand them down your old phone just because they say “everyone else in my class has one.” Special rules, responsibilities have to outlined before giving your child a phone. This will also help you decide if they really need a smart phone that is also their music device, a portable movie and game player, and portal to the Internet or a simple phone that can be used for texting and making calls.
Anyway, these questions sincerely helped me and my wife decide whether or not we should give our son a phone. Hopefully they will be useful to you too. In any case, we’d love hear your opinion on this topic.